For the record, Breath of Fire III (BOF3) was released in 1998 for the PSOne and is the third installment of the franchise. Prior to the millennium, the Breath of Fire franchise was doing extremely well worldwide, but unfortunately it ended with Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter on the PS2, where reviews nosedived due to a complete change of direction in gameplay and a lackluster effort in the story department. Nonetheless, PSP gamers will be glad to know that BOF3 remains, in many fans’ opinions, one of the most complete among the installments and it is definitely worth a play whichever console it comes out in.
Third-in-a-Row but Still Unchanged
For the uninitiated, all Breath of Fire stories always feature a protagonist that is related to dragons. In the case of BOF3, the story resolves around Ryu, a descendant of the dragons who were thought to have become extinct during a great war. In the beginning, we’re treated to a scene where Ryu wakes up in a cave not knowing how or why he is there. As the story progresses, the enigmatic hero begins to find out about himself, including his unnatural ability to turn into dragons of various forms as well as his destiny coming into the world.
To put it in generic terms, the plot is very old-school and is pretty much about a journey of self-discovery. I suspect most modern gamers may not even notice the story because seeing your hero transform into dragons is much more interesting and way cooler than the somewhat bland storyline (by today’s standard).
Nice Elements Coupled with Standard Turn-Based Gameplay
Gameplay-wise, BOF3 is as generic as turn-based RPG goes. You have an exploration interface where your characters are free to roam about, as well as a random battle encounter after every couple of steps you take. Battle-wise, you take turn taking an action until your party members or the enemies are wiped out. Most casual and experienced RPG gamers shouldn’t encounter too much difficulty winning battles from start to finish.
An interesting motif for all BOF games is the ability for your protagonist to transform into a kickass dragon at the expense of his MPs. In BOF3, the developer introduced a new “dragon gene” system which allows you to mix and match dragon genes you’ll find throughout the game, and subsequently turn Ryu into different forms of dragons during his transformation. Be warned! If you get the correct combination, Ryu may transform into gigantic dragons that will totally own your enemies. But if you get the wrong ones, Ryu may change into this tiny dragon baby that can’t do squat. You don’t want that happening especially during boss fights.
Suspiciously copying an element from the older Final Fantasy titles, BOF3 incorporates the ability to “examine” an enemy during battle. By successfully “examining” an enemy, you’ll steal some cool moves and skills that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get from normal leveling up. This isn’t a must-do but if you happen to get sick of the mundane skill sets of your party, it’s something that can make your battles more interesting.
Another interesting aspect in BF3′s gameplay is the “master system”. In a nutshell, there are several masters each with their unique strengths scattered throughout the world of BOF3. By seeking out these masters and fulfilling their requests, your party members will get the opportunity to become apprentices to them. And depending on which masters you assign your party members to, the characters will grow differently when they level up, sometime even gaining special skills during the process.
For me, the “master system” is a great addition as it let you take control (to a certain extent) on how you want to grow your party members. Obviously the downside would be your characters might actually turn out totally different from what you envision them to be. For casual gamers, the process of seeking out masters, performing the relevant tasks, leveling up, and eventually finding out how different your characters have grown could also be a little on the time-consuming and tedious side. If you just want to have some mindless RPG fun, perhaps this isn’t something you want to dedicate too much time to.
Dated Graphics (and Engine Too?)
I have always been quick to come to the defense of really old games in the graphics department, but man, I really wished Capcom has done something to perk up the images of BOF3. Make no mistake; the graphics here are somewhat adequately detailed and colorful, but the word “outdated” kept trying to pry into my cerebral cap as I was playing BOF3. I can’t quite point my finger at any specific elements, but graphically the game is dated no matter how you look at it. Luckily, most RPG gamers aren’t too concerned about this department as long as the game’s got a decent story and nice gameplay, which BOF3 has plenty of.
Sound-wise, I’ve got no complaints. In fact, I would gladly give the sounds and music of BOF3 an Above-Average because there are some nicely-composed and memorable tunes in the game. Obviously being a title from a decade ago, there is no voice but considering some of the script translations are on the slightly quirky side, this might actually be a blessing in disguise.
My major complaint for BOF3 is the loading time. Simply put, loading time between battles and exploration map is quite slow. When you consider BOF3 is an RPG with random battles, you know you’ll eventually be pulling your hair out when every dozen steps equate to another couple of seconds of loading time. Frankly speaking, this isn’t something I expect of a new-age console that is PSP. Surely the technology we have nowadays can do better than that? I just hope developers can make a genuine effort in this aspect when they decide to port an old game into the PSP in the future.
10 Years Later and Still Fishing
Playability has always been a strong point of Breath of Fire titles (well, except for the notorious Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter), and BOF3 certainly lives up to its reputation. As far as an RPG goes, BOF3 contains an unbelievable amount of things to do outside its main storyline; and most importantly, they are all fun to play and addictive as hell!
To begin with, there is the fairy world mini-game which essentially allows you to dictate how you want to build up a fairy community from scratch. Without going too much into details, it’s sort of like playing a simplistic version of one of those Sims titles, and it’s pretty rewarding to see your fairy community growing and your land expands outward to reveal new areas that you previously have no access to.
The other mini-game – fishing – is pure genius. It sounds unbelievable as I’m writing this but BOF3′s fishing mini-game rocks like no other fishing games do. Maybe it’s the lure of “no brainer” gaming, or perhaps Capcom actually spent hundred of hours researching and developing this aspect of BOF3. Either way, you’ll be fishing so hard that a dozen hours will go by and you’ll totally forget about Ryu and his puny quest for self-identity. Trust me, I’ve been there. And yes, it’s that good.
Hello? There’s Nothing Else… Get This!
For the lack of any other new English RPGs in the caliber of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, BOF3 is a nice little gem that will give RPG gamers a reason to switch on their PSPs again. It’s got everything a good RPG is supposed to be – a decent plot, nice gameplay, some innovative aspects, and surprisingly addictive mini-games. If you can get past the dated feel of the title that may be overwhelming in the first hour of gameplay, you are going to have fun with this baby.
In conclusion, PSPHyper gives Breath of Fire 3 a somewhat surprising 3.5 out of 5 stars.